Donald Trump tried to ban Tiktok for making fun of him. Like most Trump initiatives, his Tiktok outburst achieved nothing. But now South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson is reviving the push to “Block the Tok” to save us and our data from Red China:
Today, U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) introduced the Block the Tok Act, a bill that would prohibit TikTok from accessing U.S. citizens’ user data from within China and block the installation of TikTok on government devices. Earlier this year, reports indicated the Chinese parent company of TikTok was freely accessing sensitive user data such as passwords, keystrokes, browser history, and voice and facial recognition.
“According to TikTok’s own employees, ‘everything is seen in China,’” said Johnson. “It might seem trivial to go after an app known for viral dance videos, but TikTok is a national security concern. TikTok has more than one billion users, and China is using Americans’ information to advance its communist agenda. It’s no secret China’s goal is to replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower – Americans shouldn’t help China advance its agenda. Block the Tok keeps China’s hands off your personal information” [Rep. Dusty Johnson, press release, 2022.09.06].
Wait: government employees can put Tiktok on their government phones now? What federal manager, IT or otherwise, needs an act of Congress to tell them that nobody in the office except maybe one comms staffer (and that’s a big maybe) needs Tiktok at work? (I invite counterperspectives: can Tiktok improve any federal worker’s productivity?)
I appreciate Dusty’s effort to keep my personal data from falling into the hands of the Communist Chinese… although his effort is not quite as effective as my effort, which involves not using Tiktok. But I have a feeling that if Dusty really wants to prevent China from accessing our data and and using what it learns to influence us through what we see online, he’ll have to expand his bill to do more than ban China from accessing the data ByteDance collects from Tiktok users. China, Russia, and anyone else who wants to mess with our heads can probably learn just as much about Dusty, me, and the rest of us Americans by buying data from any number of third-party vendors about all the stuff we are so eagerly tapping and viewing all day long on our phones and other devices. Or the Maoists, Putinists, and other enemies of freedom can just buy ads on Facebook, sic their bot farms on Twitter, or just hack networks for whatever data they might find useful.
Tiktok is only a tiny part of the broader problem of data privacy. Given the resistance Dusty’s party and its Supreme Court nominees are showing to the concept of privacy, Dusty might have trouble mustering more than a nice rhymy slogan to prevent Americans’ personal data from falling into bad guys’ hands.